Distinguishing the Roles of Dorsolateral and Anterior PFC in Visual Metacognition.J Neurosci. 2018 05 30; 38(22):5078-5087.JN
Visual metacognition depends on regions within the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Two areas in particular have been implicated repeatedly: the dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) and the anterior PFC (aPFC). However, it is still unclear what the function of each of these areas is and how they differ from each other. To establish the specific roles of DLPFC and aPFC in metacognition, we used online transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to interfere causally with their functioning during confidence generation. Human subjects from both sexes performed a perceptual decision making and provided confidence ratings. We found a clear dissociation between the two areas: DLPFC TMS lowered confidence ratings, whereas aPFC TMS increased metacognitive ability, but only for the second half of the experimental blocks. These results support a functional architecture in which DLPFC reads out the strength of the sensory evidence and relays it to aPFC, which makes the confidence judgment by potentially incorporating additional, nonperceptual information. Indeed, simulations from a model that incorporates these putative DLPFC and aPFC functions reproduced our behavioral results. These findings establish DLPFC and aPFC as distinct nodes in a metacognitive network and suggest specific contributions from each of these regions to confidence generation.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is known to be critical for metacognition. Two of its subregions, the dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) and the anterior PFC (aPFC), have been specifically implicated in confidence generation. However, it is unclear whether these regions have distinct functions related to the underlying metacognitive computation. Using a causal intervention with transcranial magnetic stimulation, we demonstrate that DLPFC and aPFC have dissociable contributions: targeting DLPFC decreased average confidence ratings, whereas targeting aPFC affected metacognitive scores specifically. Based on these results, we postulated specific functions for DLPFC and aPFC in metacognitive computation and corroborated them using a computational model that reproduced our results. Our causal results reveal the existence of a specialized modular organization in PFC for confidence generation.